The excellent blog ClimbingHouse.com recently took a look at the ad content in 3 of the major U.S. climbing magazines (Climbing, Rock & Ice and Dead Point Magazine). While not a new topic per se, they were able to put a cool twist on the subject by going through a recent issue of DPM and blacking out all the ads:
Blackout from Climbing House on Vimeo.
In a followup post, ClimbingHouse compared the percentage of ads (based on their criteria) in each of the 3 magazines with somewhat surprising results. Obviously ads are a necessary part of the magazine publication process, but I thought these were two interesting looks at the subject.
On a related note, alpinist Kelly Cordes recently posted some thoughts while reviewing latest issue of Alpinist that I thought were quite interesting:
…there must be something intrinsic to commitment that lends itself to great storytelling, which might explain why, unfortunately, virtually zero good literature exists about sport climbing/bouldering/cragging – not trying to rip on those crafts, fun as they are, utterly mind-blowing athletically at the high end, and much as I enjoy them. It seems it should create some good lit, though – unless I’m just missing it (along with the longtime climbing historians and literature buffs, and the book festival jurors) – surely similar attributes and drive exist among the dedicated. Hell, people live in their cars, make huge sacrifices, get maniacally obsessed with a little chunk of obscure stone, all in order to clip bolts and do boulder problems. Why the lack of great writing? Surely they’re not all illiterate. Hell, brain-damaged alpinists manage to write historically great mountain literature.
Despite the fact that I enjoy reading (and writing) about the latest and greatest high end rock climbing news, quality literature (as Cordes puts it) on the subject does seem to be lacking of late in the magazines. I can’t remember the last time I read an issue of DPM, Climbing, Urban Climber or R&I more than once, and lately I’ve been mostly skimming the articles whenever the mags come in the mail. Contrast that with a magazine like Alpinist that it takes literally weeks to read with all the excellent articles. In the year I’ve been a subscriber to Alpinist I’ve already gone back and re-read parts of all the issues. Then again, Alpinist costs almost twice as much to get half the issues of the other mags.
This brings me to something I’ve given major thought to of late. I currently have subscriptions to Alpinist, R&I, Urban Climber and Climbing with 1 of the 4 seemingly up for renewal every couple of months. For years I’ve just blindly renewed them, but that may be changing very soon.
What are your thoughts on the current state of the climbing magazine industry? Is there one magazine you feel has quality articles that I might be missing? If you could only subscribe to one magazine, which one would it be? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Regarding good cragging literature: How about some of the biographies of top climbers, such as Lynn Hill’s book.
I don’t subscribe to any of the mags, but I still manage to “read” most of them. I say “read” because I typically just flip through ’em and look at the pictures.
The December issue of Climbing was the first mag I’ve actually read in a while, it was good.
While it’s certainly nice to read feature-length articles in actual print format, online climbing media has essentially made magazines obsolete for anything resembling current news and events. And even the articles describing destinations are often less informative than simply firing off a few emails to local climbers and shops. I used to pour over every issue of Climbing and R&I when I started climbing. Now I barely even skim them, and haven’t had a subscription in over 3 years.
I had a similar thought the other day when comparing a 1996 copy of Climbing to my December 2009 copy. The difference in the amount content is staggering! Personally, I think freely available up-to-the-minute climbing sites available on the ‘Net (such as yours, Narc) have a lot to do with this. Previously it was solely up to the mags to bring us news, reviews and pics, so they had more exclusive content to provide. Not that it’s a bad thing per se, but it’s changed the game.
That said, with Climbing Magazine and Urban Climber available for a pittance in the US (I can see the incredible offers, even if I can’t make use of them), it would be a crime NOT to subscribe and support the industry! Over here in SA a year’s worth of Climbing costs me $69!
“there must be something intrinsic to commitment that lends itself to great storytelling”
Kelly Cordes’ statement is in part what I am writing about in an article for the Alpinist. I utterly disagree with its premise but its spirit has certainly has had its effects on climbing writing
Looking forward to seeing this article. Any idea which Alpinist it’s going to be in?
Last night I went through all of my old Climbing and R&I magazines dating back to the early Nineties. I actually held onto a few of them because they had a wealth of readable material. I barely spend any time skimming the new mags when they come to the gym. No one buys them. I would not even use a free subscription if I got one. The content is dull. Their used to be a history of product reviews,(my guess is they went away as to not offend advertisers)Mini guides, how to information and captivating stories. None of this exists. If you subscribe to The Narc that,s all I need. The Narc is almost better than Fox news.
I’m not sure if that is a compliment or not…
I absolutely love Alpinist. It is the only climbing magazine I buy or read. Everything about Alpinist is just so awesome. The other magazines, like DPM, Climbing, Rock and Ice, I look at the pretty pictures in them at the climbing store.
On a side note – I’ve never heard of climbinghouse.com until this post. It looks like an interesting one. Maybe in the future you could feature some other climbing blogs that I haven’t heard of before as well. If it’ll help, I can send you a list of all the blogs I currently read. 😉
Of course, anything for you Chad 🙂
That is a good idea though and one I’ve actually been thinking about of late. I’ll see what I can come up with.
Here are a few of my big climbing blog RSS aggregations. The second one has about 400 outdoor blogs included.
As well as starred items
I’m working on making a page on my website that has a big list of all the individual blogs similar to these but updated.
Thanks for the sites Luke!
Hands down I think Alpinist is where it’s at. I’m a lifelong subscriber to Climbing and only a part to R&I. Climbing has good content most of the time but also lots of “filler”. Alpinist is, well i suppose you get what you pay for.
I’ve been perusing the rags since the mid-’70’s, and while most of the content now is anything but classic, so it was the case then as well, on a percentage basis. Of course, the sheer volume now from all sources is staggering, whereas back in The Day, we hung on every word we were provided, and much of our info was from books. It was ridiculous how much detailed info we had from some chossy little Brit crag, vs. major U.S. climbing areas, simply because of the greater output of Brit print media on climbing. Europe was a de facto black box, since their media wasn’t in English and not carried stateside (at one point in the mid-’80’s a French friend gave me a few issues of “Vertical” and “Desnivel” which I tried to translate word-for-word to figure out was going on).
Nowadays, video is rightfully a major influence, and in answer to the conundrum about cragging/bouldering, look no further than the plethora of dramatic video content of these pursuits out there. It is much easier and generally more effective to convey athleticism, and even the art of movement via cinematic action than through prose and a few stills.
It WAS a different mystique back when I had no idea of even the existence of 5.13 until years after the FA of The Phoenix or Grand Illusion,, while today we are hanging virtually daily on Chris’ attempts on his latest cutting-edge “proj”.
I’ve been thinking the exact same thing about climbing mags lately. My issue of climbing came in a few days ago and I didn’t even want to look at it. Some of the pictures are cool but most of the articles are boring and uninspiring. All the training/injury articles are just being recycled from previous years and there is rarely any new content. I much prefer watching climbing vids online than reading any magazine.
Regarding ad’s in mags: We just had a fantastic climbing mag in Australia (CRUX) go under (and this was a community-effort mag with contributors not receiving payment) because they simply couldn’t get advertising support. The US mags have ad ratios approaching 50%, CRUX had like 5%. It just didn’t work. Ad’s are definitely a necessary evil and I’ve really changed my views on this issue since the collapse of CRUX.
Alex, just wanted to add that it’s beginning to feel like many of the destination articles are repeats from previous years as well.
Here’s another way to looks at things …
Take any sport you develop an interest in — cycling, surfing, skating, running, hoops, triathlon, or whatever. Without meaning to, you wrap yourself up in it for a few years/decades/the duration of your present life form.
Of course, you subscribe to the magazines that cover said activity/passion/waste of useful time. All of them. You also check everything to do with your activity online (bonus — it’s free!).
For awhile you are stoked to read every issue (you even read the ads). Then you develop some serious skillz (modern spelling). You realize that half the content is for newcomers/newbs/the clueless people who are ruining the sport.
You find a more nuanced publication, written for insiders like you. It fails to attract enough readers and goes bankrupt.
You declare your disdain for the magazines you once loved. Still, they go on publishing (this part may be overly optimistic) and attracting new readers. They and you agree to go your separate ways.
So it goes. Bitter … what?
I get Alpinist, R&I, and Climbing (the latter two only because they are damn cheap, probably from the ad revenue). IMO Alpinist certainly has the nicest layout, but for those of us who don’t give a shit about the mountains, it’s appeal is somewhat limited. Am I the only one who kind of wishes R&I and Climbing would pool their resources and make one really good mag with a broader appeal? Like Alpinist but without the lame alpinism focus? Narc your site rarely has alpine or mountaineering news, you must feel the same way?
I’ve always enjoyed reading about alpinism and mountaineering but I’ve found that most of the audience for this site doesn’t care as much. Plus it’s not really an activity I participate in so I’ve never really focused on it as a topic.
What are mountains?
I went through my mags and came up with different results.
The thing this guy didn’t do is look at DPM’s online content. He also counted DPM reviews as ads while not including them as ads in the other mags.
Rock and Ice 47%
I did not have an Alpinist for comparison, but I am sure their ad to content ratio is low.
Muffintop- Thanks for your work on this. BTW I included ALL the reviews as ads in ALL the mags. I got VERY similar results to you with:
Rock and Ice=47%
Whether or not to include reviews as ads is up for debate, but here was my logic:
When was the last time you read a negative, or not-glowing gear review in a mag. It doesn’t happen very often. And it’s no coincidence that the same brands that had products reviewed purchased ad space in the mag.
When you follow the money, it is clear the mags may not give unbiased reviews. I’m not saying the reviewers lie or anything, just that they aren’t totally neutral. Thus I consider them ads for this test.
That makes total sense. Have you done UC and Alpinist. It would be interesting to see what the total pages of content were for all the mags.
And of course Dead Point’s new website is worth discussing as well. There are so many ads it’s hard to see the content half the time!
I don’t subscribe to any climbing magazines at this time. I think you can find just as useful info online for free as you can in a magazine.
First of all, let me give a shout out to my subscriptions: Climbing and Urban Climber. That is not to say that I don’t read Rock & Ice or Alpinist. Rather, I choose to pay full price for them every month at the local climbing shop. I want to give them the full money because I think they feature two of the best writers in the business right now, Jeff Jackson and Andrew Bisharat. There are no better key pounders around one can read on a monthly basis (I know freelancers kill it as well, such as John Long, but these guys are putting out the highest quality every 30 or so days). Matt Samet, with Climbing, can also twirl the pen. Anyway, on to business.
Listen, here’s the rub as I see it. The rags are in a tough spot. I agree that not enough human stories are told, when mirrored with the ridonkulous mutant send stories. I agree that the training/injury articles are recycled year in and year out, a la Men’s Health. Each article tells 10% of the story 10 times a year, so one buying a year subscription might get a full article on what they want to read, for example about tendon injuries or campus board sessions. It’s an old trick, although maybe not construed as a trick by the powers that be. I also agree that some of the destination pieces are recycled or doubled up by competing rags in the same month (Mexico bouldering, Washington bouldering…both recently and by R&I and Climbing). Then again, Jesus, we can’t imagine new stellar destinations out of the miasma.
But to scribble out the ads in a mag shows what, exactly? That ads suck? Indeed, advertisements suck. We know this. Commercials during Seinfeld suck. Pop-ups suck on the internet. I get it. But let’s take a gander at the inverse situation, if you please. The rags lower their advertisements and what happens? Revenue diminishes. As most of you stated ahead of me, you don’t buy anyway. So, the mags go away, replaced by websites and blogs serving for news, but not paying for subscription and hence NOT PAYING TALENT TO WRITE. We get average articles and pontifications, perhaps from great climbers, but not great writers. We get status quo, and for nothing. Thanks, I’ll pay for one good article: to support my peers, to support the industry, to support the art. If we don’t, at least some of us, do that…well, I’m not an economist, but I’m pretty comfortable with my foresight.
I used to be a buyer for the oldest climbing shop in Denver (and now, if you couldn’t tell, a freelance writer). Personally owned for 30 damn years, serving the community with climbers, kayakers, and tele skiers that got out there and killed it, that knew snow conditions in the mountains, that knew what hole best served rodeo moves, that knew what route most needed re-bolting. And yeah, our prices were .25 cents higher than REI. You know what happened? Of course you do. After 30 years, the shop was history, and now Denver has only one core climbing shop…and REI (not that REI is bad, but you ain’t gonna get the bad-ass characters shilling the smarts that you’d get in a mom-and-pop shop).
In the same way, if we don’t support our mags and foster some sort of solution to the problem, we’ll be out a handful of killer rags that, by your own estimations, CAN ONLY GET BETTER. Instead of shitting on the rags, let’s holler, let’s scream, let’s get them on our train and tell them where we want to go! Let us not watch these guys launch from the edge, but rather talk them down. Let’s offer some solutions to the industry problem that seems to be cropping up. Let’s not lose these rags. Let’s make them better.
Excellent points Dave. I agree that it’s important to support good writing as I certainly won’t be the one to pretend that I’m a great writer by any stretch. I think it’s just the same issue that is affecting all print media at this point. I don’t think anyone knows what’s going to happen.
Dave- Thanks for your comment, you make some great points.
To address a couple things to you said: What does blacking out the ads prove? Nothing. It’s simply a visual way to measure the ad content in the mag.
In fact, you may have read my conclusion that I prefer the mags that have higher ad content. I don’t think I’m “shitting” on the rags, but some people are, I suppose.
Eli-I know you in particular were not pooping on the rags. It was more the evolution of the comments that stepped from ad content to content as a whole.
There’s some awesome discussion about the current state of industry mags here:
Both from Tim Kemple’s blog…
Ads are a necessary evil when printing a magazine. Nothing is free. In fact, printing is expensive. If you question that, go make some double sided color copies at Kinkos.
DPM remains the only media platform paying for videos, and our editorial rate is one of the highest in the business. You can complain about ads all you want, but without them, great magazines like Alpinist go out of business and contributors don’t get paid. That is why we made 100% of our content on our new website ads.
I never said ads were a bad thing, obviously they are an important part of the publishing process.
The one thing I’ve noticed about the ads on the new DPM site is that when google doesn’t have climbing ads to show they show random ads like the Fitness Singles that distract from the content on the site.
The one thing that troubles me about these “comment on the mags” postings that show up on the blogs and forums all the time is that none of the writers ever bother to contact any magazine editors for their side of the story, or perspective. So much more goes into any magazine than what you see in the finished product.
Narc, it’s disingenuous to stand icily above the climbing industry, commenting on it negatively with seeming impunity. The hard work of professional athletes, the companies that sponsor them, and the magazines that do their best to cover these climbers (and yes, happen to accept ads, too) makes it possible for you – Google-like paying nobody anything – to aggregate this content and offer it for free.
You can say whatever you want about Climbing or any of the other magazines, but here’s the real scoop: I’m the only full-time editor at Climbing. My wife was in 3 days a week but left to take another job. Can one person, of whatever talent level (and I’m not really of that old-school arrogant mindset that magazine editors know more than anyone else), somehow offer an all-pleasing, all-encompassing view of an international sport, while still hitting budgets, doing their best by contributors (five to 10 queries a day land in my inbox), readers, and advertisers? Would you like to try? It’s a daunting, thankless task, to be sure, and all I can really say is that I’ve tried my hardest for a long time (years) now. All of the endless, faceless (what’s your real name?) Internet criticism hurled our way does have a negative impact – on our psyches, on the industry, and on confidence in publishing in general.
Climbing Magazine isn’t some giant, soulless, corporate edifice against which to rail. Right now it’s one person, and guess what – I bleed just like the rest of you.
Again, I’m not sure where people are getting that I hate the magazines. I pay money to subscribe to all of them. For the most part I enjoy them, but lately I have found my interest waning. I thought I would post about it to see what others are thinking. Clearly I am not alone.
The entire point of this site is to try and draw positive attention to things that are going on in the climbing community and drive readers to those stories. I would think that the hard working athletes, companies and magazines would like the added attention. 99% of the posts I do try to portray climbing in a positive light so I’m not sure how after one mildly negative post you can declare that I “stand icily above the climbing industry, commenting on it negatively with seeming impunity”.
Brian Runnells AKA Narc
You boss is doing really well for himself. He should get you some employees. You deserve a little help, but we all know he hates paying anyone.
I was receiving UC, Climbing, R&I and Gripped. The latter, Gripped, while less polished, actually had some good editorial content. I’m thinking of one issue that contained an in-depth history of Dreamtime. But their web site and subscription process was so outdated and flawed I found it too difficult to actually *stay* subscribed.
There was also a time 18 mos or so ago when R&I, apparently under Jeff Jackson’s influence, seemed to be gaining momentum with some great articles and writing –at times. But it was sporadic and I’ve not found anything compelling to read there for a while.
So, I’ve let all my subscriptions lapse. If all the magazines do is rehash the same news highlights that are available in near realtime here on the web, there’s little reason to receive them. I don’t want to see climbing magazines go away, but they’re going to have to up their editorial content and the quality of their writing before I feel inclined to subscribe again.
Two other remarks from the comments above:
First, to the Narc: what you believe you are accomplishing with your site, you are. This is a great site, and is where I nearly always come first to begin my dive into the latest climbing news and reports.
Second, to Matt, Climbing’s editor. Nice to have you weigh in and let us know what it’s like on the inside. Your frustration speaks loudly. That aside, maybe you guys should start by looking at your own web site and get that thing revamped. For a brief while your pro blogs were worth checking out. But my god, they’re laughable now: Daniel Woods two lame entries, Dave MacLeod same. Lauren Lee, Josune Bereziartu, Dave Graham nothing since 2008. And Michael Reardon? Come on, you gotta let that guy rest in peace (he was never that interesting to begin with). The thing that you don’t seem to get is that there are a lot of us out here who DO pay attention. We check out your mags and your sites and we have a sense of aesthetics, style and quality. And our spending reflects what we find. Finally, if you want an example of a clean, well-designed, web-2.0-oriented, engaging site, one that reflects the 21st century we’re all living in, start right here with Brian Runnells’ excellent ClimbingNarc.com.